Billy Bragg with Special Guest Kim Churchill
Berklee Performance Center
136 Massachusetts Avenue
Boston, MA, 02115
After his sold-out solo tour in 2012, Billy Bragg returns to Boston this time with his full band. The English musician is known for his blend of folk, punk-rock, and protest music. He was recently described by the Times as a “national treasure.” Over his two-decade career, Bragg has certainly made an indelible mark on the conscience of British music, becoming perhaps the most stalwart guardian of the tradition of radical dissent that stretches back over centuries of the country’s political, cultural, and social history. Bragg is an artist with a keen sense of political activism and a pop hook, all informed with a sense of humanity and humor.
On March 19, Bragg will release his tenth album, Tooth & Nail, his first since 2008′s acclaimed Mr. Love and Justice. The album was produced by songwriter/producer Joe Henry and will be released via Cooking Vinyl.
Inspired by a fan’s tweet referring to Bragg as “the Sherpa of Heartbreak,” the album’s twelve original tracks were written with an eye towards the personal rather than the political. “Most people, when they hear my name, think of polemical anthems born in struggle,” says Bragg. “I often find myself having to remind people that I am also the Sherpa of Heartbreak, writing songs about the struggle to maintain our relationships with those we love the most.” He adds, “It is fitting that Tooth & Nail should be my next release after the re-issue of the Billy Bragg & Wilco collaboration as, stylistically, it is the follow-up to Mermaid Avenue that I never made. ”
The album was recorded live, with no overdubs, in five days—an approach not used by Bragg since his 1983 debut Life’s a Riot With Spy Vs. Spy—at Joe Henry’s basement studio in Pasadena in early 2012. It features Bragg on vocals and acoustic guitar along with a band of crack musicians assembled by Henry for the recording: Greg Leisz (Bon Iver) on pedal steel guitar, Patrick Warren (Lana del Rey) on keyboards, Jay Bellerose (Regina Spektor) on drums, and David Piltch (Ramblin’ Jack Elliot) on upright bass.
Bragg's early songs were full of passion, anger, and wit, a "one-man Clash." This was not, however, what the major record companies wanted at the time—the punk attitudes of the late-Seventies had long since given way to the escapist rise of the New Romantics. Bragg’s stark musical backdrop—for the most part a roughly strummed electric guitar—and even starker vocals belied a keen sense of melody and passionate, deeply humane lyrics. It was an early indicator that Bragg’s work would be infused with genuine insight and humour, as well as a sustained and personal commitment to political and humanitarian issues.
Bragg’s 1998 release, Mermaid Avenue, was a "reinventing" of previously undiscovered original Woody Guthrie songs. Bragg’s collaborators on the project were American alt-country rockers Wilco. Recordings began in Wilco’s hometown of Chicago and then in Dublin, where English fiddler Eliza Carthy and bluesman Corey Harris made their contributions. Natalie Merchant also added her talents when Bragg was finishing the recordings in Boston.
“People tell me that they are inspired by my songs,” Bragg explains “and for that I’m thankful, but I take my inspiration from the only people in this equation who can actually make a difference—the audience. After 25 years of activism, my faith in your ability to change the world is undimmed.”
Kim Churchill's style is explosive, with intricate fingerpicking, percussive beats on the body of the guitar, and two-handed tapping intertwined with an earthy stomp box, powerful harmonica melodies, and soulful voice. His songwriting reflects his coastal lifestyle—growing up on the East Coast of Australia, with the surf at his front door—and his new nomadic life on the road.
Admission: $36.50, $31.50, reserved seating